Let's Talk About "HD Displays"

So the iPhone 5 has been announced, and the reactions on both sides have come fast and furious. "SAME OLD SAME OLD!!!" vs. "YOU NERDS JUST DON'T HAVE TASTE!!" Blah blah. But forget most of that. I'd just like to focus on one troubling talking point.

The iPhone 5 has a 1136 x 640 display, referred to by Apple as a Retina Display. Competitors have recently caught up, and are releasing displays with "retina" quality DPI, usually 720p, or in Marketing Buzzwordland, "True HD."

I always thought the notion of someone arguing that the iPhone doesn't have a screen that falls under the definition of "HD" to be some sort of over the top parody that would never really appear. Well, time creates many a fascinating argument, as evidenced by the time comment thread of the iPhone 5 announcement:

"No HD, no NFC, no OIS, no Qi wireless, no colors, etc"

"*phone* has higher PPI than iPhone 5. And 35% more pixels to go with that. So yes “uhhh… I’ll take Retina” indeed ^ . ^;;"

"332 ppi is better than 326, and you’ll wish you had HD when you notice the screen size demand better resolution. "

(Now, I'm not going mention what phone, company, or OS these people are talking about, because I don't want to call out any specific platform. However, you can probably guess what company they like.)

These people are, in a word, looking at things the wrong way.

In today's world of smartphones, a 300 PPI should be and is the goal for any high-end device. And at this point, most are. But the difference between PPI at that level (and really 6 pixels per inch at any PPI) is negligible and will not be noticed by the human eye.

Likewise, "True HD" and 720p aren't important in the way they would be on a computer screen. These are very tiny screens that use operating systems which are entirely fullscreen. Additionally, the way high DPI/retina works is that the OS acts like it is operating at half of the pixels on the screen and uses two pixels for every point you see on screen.

In short: Whatever large benefit you think you get from a 720p screen over the iPhone 5's screen is close to nonexistent. iPhone 5 users and users of Lumias, Galaxy S IIIs, and...well I guess imagine if Blackberry had a competitive device too will all see a lot more content than they did 3 years ago. They will see the entire picture of a video. They will get really good displays. That's it. No need to split hairs over tiny differences.